Cedar Rapids speed cameras are on the ropes

Even some legislative defenders of the Cedar Rapids automated traffic enforcement program are choking on the 221,000 debt notices the city approved sending to scofflaws just before Christmas. Speed cameras, like this one attached to a sign post on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW, remain in place but cannot issue tickets during a court appeal. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Even some legislative defenders of the Cedar Rapids automated traffic enforcement program are choking on the 221,000 debt notices the city approved sending to scofflaws just before Christmas. Speed cameras, like this one attached to a sign post on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW, remain in place but cannot issue tickets during a court appeal. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Someone, please, put the Cedar Rapids speed camera system out of its misery.

Sorry, but it’s tough to watch the once-feared high-tech scourge of Interstate 380’s leadfoots now stumble onward, toothless and declawed, with the courts and the Iowa Legislature in hot pursuit. The cameras can’t even issue citations, thanks to a court order, and drivers previously ticketed are thumbing their noses at the notion of ponying up.

“Speeder Trapids” just can’t get any respect, or any bucks.

So the city authorized a collection agency to send 221,000 debt notices. They arrived in mailboxes just before Christmas. It was a festive public relations fiasco.

The collection agency’s chief executive officer, Ebenezer Scrooge, informed these scofflaws, some of whom were ticketed years ago, they’d better pay up or face a hefty surcharge. With $17.3 million in unpaid charges at stake, to be divvied up between the city, collection agency and camera vendor, this was no time for tender holiday mercies.

Some debts were downright Dickensian. Are there no workhouses?

This impressed key state lawmakers. So much so they’re swiftly reviving bills that would ban the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras entirely. Such an effort was blocked last year by lawmakers and law enforcement officers who argued the cameras’ value as a safety measure far outweighs any revenue collected.

Now, thanks to the big Christmas collections push, even the cameras’ Statehouse friends are finding it much tougher to argue it’s all about safety. And after the cameras stopped issuing tickets, Iowa Department of Transportation figures showed a decline in crashes. The city’s data disputes that, showing a smaller decline.

The collections effort also spawned yet another lawsuit, this time filed by folks who received the notices. The suit contends the city is exceeding the statute of limitations for collecting camera fines, among other arguments.

A ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court on a lawsuit by cities including Cedar Rapids against the Iowa DOT is expected this spring.

But if the Legislature bans cameras, the case could be moot.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the city had simply complied with the Iowa DOT’s 2015 order directing it to move two I-380 camera locations and remove two others.

The order called for removing the cameras trapping speeders as they leave the infamous S-curve, and moving the others closer in on the curve to give drivers more time to slow down.

Maybe some cameras still would be in operation. Maybe the city wouldn’t be tied up in court fights. Maybe the Legislature wouldn’t be speeding toward a ban. Maybe speeders who figured the city’s non-compliance with state rules meant they didn’t have to pay would have, instead, paid up.

And, sure, maybe outsiders and golden dome-types should have kept their nose out of the local camera issue, which didn’t seem to cause much controversy here. Elections came and went without much camera debate. Most people I spoke with over the years found more fault with drivers rocketing through the middle of town than with the camera system.

But it was wishful thinking to believe Cedar Rapids could fine tens of thousands of drivers from across the state and country on an interstate and not draw some sort of reaction from the Statehouse and Iowa DOT. Fighting that reaction was probably a losing battle from the start.

Now, a ban is looking more likely, thanks to the city’s revenue grab. A self-inflicted wound may snuff out Speeder Trapids.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

CONTINUE READING

MORE Staff Columnist ARTICLES TO READ NEXT ...

Hey, what's that sound?I've got that Buffalo Springfield song going through my head. The 1960s protest song 'For What It's Worth' seems like it could have been written for our present moment. 'There's something happening here. But ...

Imagine opening an email message from your boss and discovering a video clip of a woman in a Santa hat peeling off her clothing and presenting her breasts like a gift. Now imagine that your boss is the police chief, and that the e ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.